The music starts the moment you arrive in Nashville, right at the airport food court, when a woman in a petticoat mounts a small stage and introduces her three-piece band as the Wisenheimers. Cue the fiddler! Such kitschy reminders of Robert Altman’s classic Nashville are everywhere. Nashville is known as the home of country music, but the jazz, bluegrass and rock-and-roll scenes are thriving — Kings of Leon are a Nashville band — and the current generation’s rock-and-blues wunderkind, Jack White, has also relocated to the land of cowboy boots and hot chicken. (More on that later.) The city still moves with slow Southern grace — get ready to be called “Darlin’” a lot — yet fizzes with light-beer wishes and fried-okra dreams. Such is ambition here, in a city that remains very much Altman’s Nashville. Only more so.
For a taste of unbridled (but … fun) Nashville commercialism, consider staying the night at the Opryland Hotel. The 2,811-room behemoth, conveniently located next to the Grand Ole Opry, boasts an indoor river system, three enclosed atriums with 60,000 plants, and, of course, lots of shops jammed full of banjo magnets and rhinestone-studded belts. If you’re looking for a more sedate type of Southern hospitality, the stately Union Station Hotel, a century-old train-station-turned-luxe-locale, is still right near all the action on bustling Broadway.
Opryland Hotel, 2800 Opryland Drive. From $118 to $350 per night. 615-889-1000.
Union Station Hotel, 1001 Broadway. $160-$250 per night. 615-726-1001.
Get yourself to Bluebird Café, where Nashville’s top songwriters — and those who want to be Nashville’s top songwriters — perform. Or go big at the Ryman Auditorium, a converted church with pews for seating, intimate sight lines, and glorious acoustics that amplify every squeak of fingertip on guitar string. Then there are the Country Music Hall of Fame’s fabulous Studio B tours: You can sit at the very same piano on which Elvis Presley banged out gospel tunes! And don’t leave Nashville without your boots from Lower Broadway, where a few high-end stores outshine the honky-tonks and t-shirt shops. Abernathy Road and Nashville Cowboy are two of the best.
Bluebird Café, 4104 Hillsboro Pike, 615-383-1461.
Ryman Auditorium, 116 Fifth Avenue North, 615-889-3060.
Country Music Hall of Fame’s Studio B, 222 5th Avenue South, 615-416-2001.
Abernathy Road, 123 2nd Avenue North, 615-891-3362.
Nashville Cowboy, 132 2nd Avenue North, 615-259-8922.
The Food Scene
At Jack’s Barbecue, renowned for brisket and pulled pork, the regulars will gladly learn you the meats and sauces. The t-shirts at Monell’s say “I’ve Eaten and I Can’t Get Up,” which makes sense, given the family-style heaps of Southern comfort food. But for the brave, you can’t beat hot chicken at Prince’s. Legend has it that a woman scorned tried to teach her cheatin’ man a lesson by serving him chicken boiled in cayenne pepper … and the bastard liked it. Lo, a staple was born.
Jack’s Barbecue, 416 Broadway, 615-254-5715.
Monell’s, 1235 6th Avenue North, 615-248-4747.
Prince’s, 123 Ewing Drive, 615-226-9442.
The Photo Ops
You in Studio B, where Roy Orbison hit the high note in “Crying,” and the immense Parthenon, Nashville’s odd but beautiful replica of the Greek original, located in lovely Centennial Park — the site of the climactic political rally scene in Altman’s film.
It’s an easy nonstop two-hour flight from PHL to Nashville. Starting from around $200 round-trip.
What To Get Before You Go
Great jeans : It’s the uniform. Barney’s Co-Op, 1811 Walnut Street, 215-563-5333.
Civil War lit: The war remains a cultural influence; get into the mind-set with The Republic of Suffering, by Drew Gilpin Faust.
Head House Books, 619 South 2nd Street, 215-923-9525.